Tag Archive | "school news"

Bridgehampton School District Voters Say No to Piercing Tax Cap; Mansfield, McCleland Elected to School Board

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Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre congratulates Kathleen McCleland on winning a seat on the Board of Education as board member Larry LaPointe looks on, after polls close in the school gymnasium Tuesday, May 20. Photo by Michael Heller.

Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre congratulates Kathleen McCleland on winning a seat on the Board of Education as board member Larry LaPointe looks on, after polls close in the school gymnasium Tuesday, May 20. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Bridgehampton residents turned down the Bridgehampton School District’s attempt to pierce the New York State mandated tax levy cap with its 2014-15 budget on Tuesday.

Although the budget passed by a margin of 134 to 113, it failed to gain the 60-percent supermajority required to pierce the cap, coming in short at just above 54 percent. A total of 247 residents cast ballots.

Since the spending plan did not gain the necessary support, the Board of Education will go back to the drawing board, asking voters to return to the polls a second time with either a reduced budget or an identical one. If the second vote fails, the district must adopt a 0-percent tax levy increase, which would force it to adopt last year’s budget and craft a new plan that cuts $1 million from the one proposed.

“It’s disappointing because just to run a vote kicks us in the budget,” Dr. Lois Favre, who is both superintendent and principal for the district, said following the vote.

The $12.3 million budget would have increased spending by $1.4 million, or 9.9 percent. It would have required a $10.6 million tax levy, an 8.8-percent increase that district officials said would amount to an increase of about $56 for the year on the tax bill of a house valued at $500,000.

“We’ll meet as a board and we have to bring the budget back up to the public and hope for a better result next time,” Dr. Favre said.

“It’s disappointing,” agreed Lillian Tyree-Johnson, vice president of the school board.

A proposition on the ballot to provide $160,000 in funding for the Bridgehampton Childcare and Recreation Center was approved by a 157-to-89 vote margin.

 

School Board Elections

Also on Tuesday, Bridgehampton voters elected newcomers Kathleen McCleland and Jeffrey Mansfield to two seats on the school board. Mr. Mansfield received 187 votes, Ms. McCleland received172 and Michael Gomberg came in third with 72 votes.

The positions were left vacant when incumbents Gabriela Braia and Elizabeth Kotz both decided not to run again.

Mr. Mansfield, 49, has been visiting Bridgehampton since he was a child and moved to the district full-time in 2008 after a 17-year career on Wall Street. He now works as a stay-at-home dad to his three children, ages 4, 6 and 7, who all attend Bridgehampton School. He is also active in the community, serving as a member of the Southampton Town Audit Advisory Committee, vice chairman of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee and active in the Bridgehampton School Foundation and the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Little League.

With a mother who worked as a public school teacher for over 30 years, Mr. Mansfield considers himself a “champion of education.”

“I think education is the tool that breaks the cycle of poverty and ignorance,” Mr. Mansfield said during a Meet the Candidates forum in May. “It behooves all of us to have a wonderful school district.”

A Bridgehampton native, Ms. McCleland moved back home in 2004 to start a family. Before that, she spent some time in Manhattan working as a personal chef and in corporate event planning at Goldman Sachs.

Ms. McCleland’s two children now attend the school. She works as the pastry chef for the Beacon and the Bell of Anchor restaurants, of which her husband Sam is chef and co-owner.

“I’m very excited at the prospect of taking on the challenges of the school board,” Ms. McCleland said Tuesday night after the results were announced.

The newcomers’ three-year terms on the school board will start July 1 and run through June 30, 2017.

Bridgehampton School District to Pierce Tax Cap

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Monasia Street shows off her robot's skills to her classmates during a robotics demonstration at the Bridgehampton School in February. Photo by Michael Heller.

The Bridgehampton Board of Education has decided to pierce the tax levy cap to save programs like robotics, which enables students like Monasia Street, above, to learn about technology. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a third and final presentation of the 2014-15 budget before it is adopted April 23, the Bridgehampton Board of Education unanimously decided to pierce the mandated state tax cap in order to salvage its programs, curriculum and staff.

After Superintendent and Principal Dr. Lois Favre presented several options to the school board on March 26, each with different spending increases and the corresponding cuts that would be required, the board decided to move forward with a 9.93 percent spending increase, which is 4.46 percent over the district’s allowable tax levy limit.

If Bridgehampton voters pass the budget, it would increase the tax bill on a $500,000 house by $56.64 for the year, an amount that costs “less than one latte a week,” Dr. Favre reminded those in the room.

The final budget removes the “wish list” items, mainly for technology advances, staff development and curriculum work, from the original budget draft, but allows for overtime. No staff positions or programs would be lost, but some programs will still have to be reduced, said Dr. Favre, such as the homework club, which will now run three days a week, rather than four.

The proposed spending for the 2014-15 school year is $12.33 million, an increase of $1.11 million over last year’s budget, largely due to contractual salary and benefit increases. The proposed tax levy increase of $909,781 would be $429,023 over the levy limit.

At a community forum on the budget March 5, those in attendance were unanimous in their opinion that the school district needed to pierce the cap if it were to continue providing Bridgehampton’s kids with a decent education.

The forum, Dr. Favre said, showed those residents’ “belief that actual dollar amounts are negligible compared to what could be lost if cuts are made too deeply.”

Dr. Favre also noted that the district is actually spending less than in previous years. The budget Bridgehampton originally proposed in 2010-2011 is higher than what is being proposed four years later.

“So, we’ve been doing what they asked, we’ve been making the necessary cuts,” Dr. Favre said last week.

“Each budget is only a cut for that school year,” she added. “The deeper the cuts, the harder it is to get the programs and people put back in.”

The school board agreed the 9.93 percent increase was the best option, providing a good balance between preserving programs without substantially increasing residents’ tax bills.

Douglas DeGroot, a member of the school board, said if the district could no longer support itself and had to close, the school taxes for Bridgehampton’s residents would go up, so piercing the tax cap now is the cheaper option in the long run.

“You can’t have a school district without a school,” said Mr. DeGroot. “So, we will become a part of somebody else’s and if we become a part of Sag Harbor—which is the closest and makes the most sense—the school portion of our tax bill, which is the majority of our tax bill, will treble here.”

A public budget hearing will be held May 7 at 7 p.m. at the Bridgehampton School.

Pierson Robotics Team Heads to FIRST Competition with Confidence

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The 2013-2014 Pierson Whalers Robotics team. Photo courtesy of Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team placed second at the Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition Saturday and will head to the national championship in St. Louis in April. Photo courtesy of Gayle Pickering.

By Tessa Raebeck

After coming in second place last year—and losing the championship on a technicality—the Pierson High School Robotics Team is returning to the FIRST Robotics Competition this year with a vengeance—and a “very fast robot,” according to Shane Hennessy, a junior who is in his fourth season with the team.

This weekend, the 30 members of the Pierson Whalers team will attend the 2014 Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University. An international program, FIRST challenges student teams, aided by mentors, to build a 130-pound robot in six weeks using a standard “kit of parts” and common guidelines.

This year’s game, Aerial Assist, is similar to basketball. The robot must be able to lift, throw and catch a “yoga ball,” 2 feet in diameter.  Compared to previous competitions, Aerial Assist has a catch: The team must form an alliance with two other competitors, resulting in two teams of three robots each competing against each other on the court.

The competition is more challenging this year, said Abi Gianis, a junior who is in her second year on the team.

“We have to build a robot that is capable of not only completing the task, but also can cooperate and work with other robots that we will have had never worked with before,” she said. “Teamwork between different teams is really focused on this year.”

The Whalers' robot poses in the Pierson gymnasium. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Whalers’ robot poses in the Pierson gymnasium. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Abi said the Whalers have scouted other team’s websites and YouTube pages, but cannot form official alliances until they arrive at the competition today, Thursday, March 27

As leader of the team’s scouting division for the second year in a row, Shane is finding his role has become “much more important because of that focus.”

“Last year,” he said, “it was more to figure out strategy, but this year it is integral to our success.”

At the competition, Shane must “know everything about every team there.” He will coordinate with the 12 members of the scouting division to find out information on their opponents and potential allies.

“Since we all have to work together as teams, we need to know which teams work well with us,” Shane said. “Also, we want to be able to prep for the matches where we don’t get to choose our alliance. If we have data on them, we can work together more efficiently.”

Pierson’s robot is fast this year because it has a mecanum wheel drive train, a way the motors are connected to the wheels that allows the robot to quickly go in any direction with ease.

“But our speed also means that we can be pushed around easily,” Shane said. “This means that a good teammate would be one that could block the opposing team for us.”

The robot has pincers that enable it to pick up and throw the ball, using pneumatics to open and close the mechanical arms, which were designed by programmers Liam Rothwell-Pessino and Ben Klinghoffer, with help from Rob Coe, a former electrical engineer—a team mentor—and Lucas Pickering, who captains the team along with Alex Cohen.

Liam, who joined the team last year as a sophomore, said, “Last year, I was kind of lost—as is everyone else I’m told, their first year—but then the second year, you get the hang of it and you really start to contribute. Then it really starts to get interesting and you feel like you’re part of the team.”

“I’d say that the struggling in the first year and being taught by the seniority on the team definitely helps bring the team closer together,” he added.

“We have received a lot more community support in the last few years, and the program has become more than just building a robot, in the sense that we’re really a team and robotics has become an enriching learning experience,” said Shane. “We worked really hard this year, and I think we’ll do well.”

The Pierson Robotics Team's robot and the balls it must throw in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University this weekend. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team’s robot and the balls it must throw in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University this weekend. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Sag Harbor School Board to Videotape its Meetings

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By Tessa Raebeck

After months of debate, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Tuesday approved the first reading of a policy to implement a six-month trial of videotaping its board meetings.

The policy, which requires a second reading before it is officially adopted, calls for the trial period to run from July 1 through December 31.

After forming a subcommittee to explore the matter that recommended the trial, the board met with Thomas Volz, the school attorney, and Kathy Beatty, the school’s public relations representative, in order to examine the options—and possible liabilities—of adopting the new procedure.

Mr. Volz wrote the policy, which could be amended when it is put before the board for a second reading on April 7.

Citing the lengthy process, BOE President Theresa Samot stressed the importance of making a “data-driven decision.”

Sandi Kruel, a longtime member of the school board, said the issue has “really grown to something that really made me sad,” due to her perception that there had been a public backlash directed at the board for not reaching a decision sooner. Ms. Kruel noted both Ms. Beatty and Mr. Volz had recommended against the district taping its meeting as of the more than 70 school districts each represents, only two tape their meetings.

“As a board member,” Ms. Kruel said, “as someone who was elected to this position, for me to be able to vote with 100-percent conviction tonight, I needed to do my due diligence and through that, I was very saddened by the way it transpired in our community. Moving forward, I will always do our due diligence.”

Board vice president Chris Tice, who was on the committee that recommended the trial, said although she does still support the measure, she was glad the board had thoroughly weighed the issue.

“Some districts actually saw reduction in attendance at meetings” after implementing such policy, she said. “The last thing we would want to do is reduce the number of people here.”

“I respect your desire to get information,” David Diskin, the BOE member who first called for videotaping, said to Ms. Kruel, adding he was “still okay with it.”

Board member Susan Kinsella said while she was hesitant about taping meetings, she would stand with the board in supporting the measure. “I just hope we’re all still willing to speak our minds,” she said.

Calling himself a “fairly aggressive proponent for it,” board member Daniel Hartnett said, “I think we’ve thoroughly vetted it.”

Scott Fisher, the district’s director of technology, assured those in attendance Tuesday that community members who address the board from the podium during public input will not be on camera, nor will students who attend meetings. The camera will only be focused on the board and perhaps also the projector, which often displays presentations.

John Battle, a member of the community who has called on the district to increase transparency by taping its meetings at nearly every board meeting, thanked the board for passing the first reading, as well as for taking the time to examine the undertaking in-depth.

“It’s a lot easier to be an advocate than a responsible board member,” he said.

After Significant Cuts, Bridgehampton School District Budget Draft Still 4 Percent Over Tax Cap

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By Tessa Raebeck

In a second budget presentation to the Bridgehampton School Board of Education, Superintendent and Principal Dr. Lois Favre highlighted cuts she said would likely have to be made because of the state-imposed tax cap on school budgets.

In January, Dr. Favre presented a first draft of the budget with a “wish list” of items the district was hoping for, such as laminating machines and Common Core training for teachers. But with the initial budget projecting a spending increase of more than 12 percent, those additions were not included in the second draft presented at the February 26 meeting. The initial budget for 2014-2015 was $12.62 million, a $1.41 million increase over the current year.

“In the last few years we’ve made a lot of pretty significant cuts,” Dr. Favre told the board. Over the last two years, the district has realized savings by not replacing one administrator, a full-time secondary teacher, a full-time head custodian and a senior accounting clerk. It has also cut nearly 15 percent from materials and supplies budgets across the board ; and had a salary freeze covering all employees in 2012-13.

Dr. Favre walked the board through significant cuts in programming and staffing that would still result in an increase, but of 4.03 percent rather than 12.59 percent. “So all the things that we put into the budget hoping to have for next year we’ve now taken out,” said Dr. Favre. With those cuts, the budget was reduced by $316,100.

Additional cuts that could be made in order to get closer to the tax cap include cutting a teaching position, a teaching assistant position, and materials and supplies. “None of these are my recommendations,” she said. “These are just to give you a sense of what kind of digging we’re going to have to do to stay under the cap.”

“I love everyone who’s here, I love everything that we’ve built here. Every one we’re looking at right now is starting to dig into the things that make us special,” said Dr. Favre.

Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor School Districts Approve Tax Exemptions for Veterans

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Some 30 veterans came out to the Pierson library to show their support for the Veterans Tax Exemption at a special meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education February 27.

Some 30 veterans came out to the Pierson library to show their support for the Veterans Tax Exemption at a special meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education February 27.

By Tessa Raebeck

School districts in Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor this week approved tax exemptions that grant school tax relief to veterans in their districts who served during a time of war. Veterans who want to receive the exemption must apply with their town assessor by March 1 for the savings to affect this tax year.

Municipalities have been allowed to grant property tax relief to veterans since the 1980s, but state property tax law was expanded to include school districts in December. Qualified veterans in the Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor school districts will now receive a property tax exemption that could be as high as 15 percent of their primary residence’s total assessed value. If they served in a combat zone, they can receive an additional 10 percent exemption, and if they are disabled due to their service, they qualify for additional exemptions.

The law caps the exemption at $8,000 for the basic level for those veterans who served during wartime, $12,000 for veterans who also served in a combat zone and $40,000 for veterans who sustained a service-connected disability. Those caps are not dollar amounts taken directly out of taxes; rather, they are deducted from the assessed value used in calculating property tax.

On February 26, the Bridgehampton Board of Education adopted the basic maximum exemptions, as well as the Gold Star Parent provision, which extends the relief to parents who endured the loss of a son or daughter who died while in military service.

At a special meeting attended by some 30 local veterans, the Sag Harbor School Board unanimously adopted the basic maximum exemptions and the Gold Star Parent exemption February 27. The expected cost to Sag Harbor taxpayers on the East Hampton side of the village is estimated to be about $22 for a $1 million home. For Sag Harbor’s Southampton taxpayers, that number is about $17. There are 152 veterans at the basic level, 106 combat zone veterans and 9 who are disabled in Sag Harbor.

JoAnn Lyles, the mother of the late Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, attended the meeting to express her support for the exemption, as well as the Gold Star Parent provision. Roger King, Commander of Sag Harbor’s VFW Post, also voiced his support for the provision. American Legion Commander Marty Knabb thanked the board for its vote and the veterans for their service.

Sag Harbor board member Daniel Hartnett said while he was happy to vote yes, he was offended by what he saw as a “gimmick” on the part of the state. “Instead of adequately funding vets programs, they come to school districts and ask them to act in this fashion,” he told the veterans. “From the bottom of my heart I thank you, but I am deeply offended by the state’s action in this regard.”

Mr. Hartnett’s remarks elicited a round of applause from the veterans in attendance.

Pierson Students Evacuated Monday Due to Strange Odor

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A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Just before the end of the school day Monday, the students and staff of Pierson High School were evacuated after administrators observed electrical problems and smelled a strange odor coming from the basement.

“We started to have some blinking lights and we smelled an odor by the motors in the basement,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, said Tuesday morning. “So, as a precautionary measure in the interest, obviously, of safety, we did evacuate the building.”

Pierson students were dismissed on schedule to buses or for parent pick up. All after-school activities were cancelled. All belongings left behind were secured in the classrooms, the district said. The Sag Harbor Elementary School was not affected.

According to PSEG Long Island, roughly 337 customers in the area, including the school, were affected at 2:02 p.m. Monday afternoon due to a down wire. The problem was corrected and full service was restored by 2:43 p.m., PSEG representative Anthony S. said Tuesday.

The Sag Harbor Fire Department and electricians investigated the problem, addressing lighting and heating concerns, and cleared the building for “safety and proper operation” at around 3:30 p.m. the district said.

“This morning we’re pretty good,” Dr. Bonuso said early Tuesday morning.

In a letter sent out to parents, students and staff shortly after 4 p.m. Monday, the district wrote, “Rest assured that teachers will be forgiving of any homework or assignments that would have been otherwise due.”

“What we wanted to make sure was if someone didn’t have their book or notes to study, not only that they didn’t need to do the homework, but that they didn’t get penalized on an assessment,” Dr. Bonuso said.

On Tuesday morning, teachers supervised the retrieval of any belongings left behind by students the afternoon before.

“I commend the students and the staff,” said Dr. Bonuso, “they were all so cooperative and we handled that glitch very well.”

Spring Break Threatened by Snow Days in Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton

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Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

As incredible as winter weekdays spent sledding, ice-skating and relaxing by the fire are, snow days tend to be bittersweet memories come springtime, when long past days off begin to cut into awaited vacation time.

Because they are required by law to have 180 full days of instruction each year, school districts must make difficult decisions on how to compensate when inclement weather makes it impossible—or at least ill advised—for students to come to school.

The Sag Harbor School District planned for two snow days this year, but school has already been closed for three days and, according to the infamous groundhog, the winter weather is showing no signs of letting up any time soon.

If the two snow days had not been used, the district would have been closed the Friday before Memorial Day and the Tuesday afterward. Since those days have already been used up, the holiday weekend will only include the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, May 26.

“Now,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, Sag Harbor’s interim superintendent, “we have to go in with that third day and take what would have been a vacation day and make it a school day.”

The spring break this year was scheduled for Monday, April 14, through Friday, April 18, with students returning to school on Monday, April 21. As of press time, April 14 will now be a school day, but the rest of the vacation remains intact for now.

Dr. Bonuso said if the district has to be closed again, the next vacation day to be eliminated would likely be Tuesday, April 15.

“And if we needed another day, Wednesday and so forth,” he added.

Local school districts have had to make such adjustments the past two years. It’s been snow this year, but last year it was Hurricane Sandy that forced the closure of school more than two days.

Sag Harbor has already adopted its calendar for the 2014-15 school year and again has factored in just two snow days.

“But,” said Dr. Bonuso, “it’s something we need to keep in mind when we construct calendars, whether we build in more days up front or say what days we should use should we run into emergency days.”

“This winter was definitely a tough one,” he added. “So it’s something we have to think about.”

The Bridgehampton School District factors in three “inclement weather days” each year.  If there are no snow days during the year, those days become days off for staff and students, typically at the end of the school year. If there are snow days, the inclement weather days function as regular school days.

Bridgehampton’s inclement weather days for this year were set for March 14, May 2 and May 23, the Friday before Memorial Day. Because Bridgehampton has also used three snow days during the 2013-2014 school year thus far, each of those days will now be full days in class for students.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre, if another snow day has to be called, a staff development day (when the staff comes in for training but students get to stay home) scheduled for April 11 could instead be used as a full day for both staff and students, “rather than take away the April break, as many families have already made plans,” she explained.

“Moving forward,” she added, “I am looking at the 2014-2015 calendar to see where we might build in an extra day for an inclement weather day.”

Sag Harbor Residents Call on School District to Reexamine Bond Parking Lot Projects

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Projected view of the asphalt impact on Pierson Middle/High School in 2014, if the group's suggestions to scale back the size are not made. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

Projected view of the asphalt impact on Pierson Middle/High School in 2014, if the group’s suggestions to scale back the size are not made. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

By Tessa Raebeck

Prior to the November 13 vote when the community passed two bond propositions set forth by the Sag Harbor School District, school officials promised voters all capital project plans were “conceptual schematics” and the community would have ample opportunities for input concerning the final design plans before construction started.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, made good on that promise, inviting members of the community to attend a bond implementation project designs group meeting on January 8, 2014.

Overwhelmingly approved by voters, the first proposition includes renovations and enhancements to the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, reconfiguration of the Pierson shop and kitchen areas, construction of additional gymnasium storage at Sag Harbor Elementary School and the reconstruction of the Hampton Street parking lot at the elementary school and the Jermain Avenue and bus parking lots at Pierson. It also covers repairs and improvements to the air conditioning, heating, ventilation and plumbing and drainage systems.

The second proposition includes the installation of a synthetic turf athletic field and two-lane walking track behind Pierson, as well as a new scoreboard and concrete seating pavilion.

Interested parties can attend any or all of seven scheduled 45 minute workshops during the course of the school day, from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Residents will have an opportunity to review the plans, provide input and ask questions. Larry Salvesen, the district architect, and other representatives from the construction projects will be on hand, as will Dr. Bonuso and school administrators.

Each session will take place on site in the area it is covering, i.e. the auditorium conversation will take place in the auditorium.  The complete schedule is available on the district website, sagharborschools.org.

“Whether we agree or disagree,” Dr. Bonuso said Monday, “people who love their community inevitably come up with what is right for everybody because they’re so driven to do the right thing.”

Mary Anne Miller, a member of the BOE, expressed the need for school administrators to be involved in the final design conversations.

“We’ve been communicating constantly back and forth,” Dr. Bonuso replied. “None of this would be headlines or new to our administration…literally [the bond projects are] a product of touching base with the administration and staff. All we’re saying is our effort is going to be in having an inclusive conversation — and that includes the staff without a doubt and our administration very pointedly.”

A group of village residents concerned about preserving green space and encouraging alternative modes of transportation aside from cars came forward prior to the bond vote with concerns regarding the proposed parking lot reconfigurations.

Parent Ken Dorph said the group was unhappy with the 2009 bond proposal, which did not pass — in large part, Dorph thinks, because of the parking plans.

The original parking plans included in the 2013 propositions were exactly the same as those proposed in 2009. Upon realizing this similarity, Dorph and others raised their concerns at a bond presentation October 21. Following that meeting, Dr. Bonuso — who was “amazing,” according to Dorph — reached out to the group and promised they would work together in finalizing the parking plans. Dr. Bonuso repeatedly said the parking lot reconfigurations were about improving health and safety, not creating more parking spaces.

At Monday’s meeting, Carol Williams presented photos to the board outlining, “what the hill looked like in 2001, what it looks like now and what it would look like unless we’re careful.”

An aerial view of Pierson Hill in 2001. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

An aerial view of Pierson Hill in 2001. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

In the aerial view of Pierson Hill from 2001, the parking lot along Division Street is significantly smaller. In the proposed plans from 2009 and 2013, originally, the Jermain Street parking lot is also expanded, which if enacted would result in significant loss of green space from 2001 to 2014.

“In Sag Harbor,” Dorph said, “we have fallen behind Riverhead, East Hampton and Tuckahoe in getting people out of their cars. We have fewer kids walking, biking than when I started [as a district parent] — which is so depressing to me.”

“There’s lots of fine-tuning things we can do,” said community member John Shaka. “I look forward to doing them with you.”

 

At Sag Harbor School Board Meeting, Questions Arise Regarding Lack of Newspaper at Pierson High School

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Sag Harbor Board of Education Vice President Chris Tice, President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district's interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Vice President Chris Tice, BOE President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

By Tessa Raebeck

Although less than 10 community members stayed for the full duration of Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) meeting, those in attendance – most of them regulars – were passionate about the needs of village schools.

One need, according to parents in attendance and many who are active on the Facebook group “Sag Harbor School District Parents Connect,” is for an active student newspaper at Pierson High School.

A newspaper for the Pierson Middle School was officially created on Monday with the board’s appointment of Jason LaBatti, a math teacher, as advisor to the new club.

According to Gary Kalish, vice principal for Pierson High School, the middle school newspaper club has been dormant for “a few years.” A literary magazine, “sort of a compilation of students’ artwork and stories,” ran in the meantime, said Barbara Bekermus, director of pupil personnel services for the district.

“It’s a position that’s been available to middle school students but [there] hasn’t been a lot of interest,” Kalish said Monday. “So, recently, I guess a group of students got together and approached [Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson Middle/High School] and asked if they could have a middle school program.”

Kalish said the high school newspaper is no longer running because “there wasn’t a significant interest this year.”

The high school newspaper, The Leviathan, ran from October 2011 to May 2013. The May 2013 issue had seven contributors, at least three of which are still attending Pierson High School.

Each edition of The Leviathan was both published in hard copy and posted to the district website, which describes the paper as “a club designed to provide students with an authentic experience in journalism and publishing. Members of the Newspaper Club are editors, photographers, reporters and graphic designers for the school newspaper.”

The paper’s contents included reviews of movies, books and school plays, a sports page, a photo spread, interviews with teachers and department representatives, a “whale quote,” and such thorough political examinations as a May 2013 piece by Mari Chavez titled “The Dreamers: The Complex Issue of Immigration and Pierson Students.”

Prior to The Leviathan was Folio, a student-run publication that was printed for free in The Sag Harbor Express. Led by advisor Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson, the full-page spread included editorials, articles, photos and information concerning the district, all written and designed by students. The last printed issue, from early May 2010, outlined possible contingency budget cuts and news on the school board elections and budget votes, as well as district announcements and upcoming events.

At Monday’s board meeting, BOE member Daniel Hartnett recalled Folio, mentioned a neighboring district similarly utilizes its local paper and wondered whether such collaboration might be available for the middle school.

“Instead of something going home in kids’ backpacks or lost on the bus or whatever, it actually gets printed in the paper,” Hartnett said.

“Yeah,” replied Kalish, “I remember the high school would partner up and it was really kind of amazing, so I’ll talk to the advisor about that.”

In other school board news, the board defended their decision to hire the public relations firm Syntax Communication Group for “communication services.” Syntax, which worked for the board in communications regarding the capital bond project propositions passed in November, is a Bohemia-based firm that provides marketing communication consulting services and specializes in working with school districts.

At the December 2 BOE meeting, the board approved an agreement between the district and Syntax, effective January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014 for $9,500. At Monday’s meeting, community member John Battle asked the board to explain its intent in hiring the PR firm.

“They will do everything from press releases to touching base with the media representatives to crisis management,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, responded, adding the firm will work on the school calendar, write articles, cover various events, write budget newsletters and press releases and communicate with “various constituents.”

“We’re going to take a look at how it works out for the rest of the year,” said Dr. Bonuso, “and see whether or not – you know, we’re always evaluating the bang for the buck – we’re going to see…whether it’s cost effective and whether we have the dollars to do so.”

Hartnett said “most districts” use PR firms and Sag Harbor has employed a similar firm in the past.

“It’s an issue that the Communications Committee has been talking about,” added Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “There’s a lot of great things happening at the school and the community doesn’t always know about them.”

Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said with changes in technology, the type of communication has changed and many schools have hired “in house communication managers.”

The BOE will hold a budget workshop and educational meeting on January 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School library.